Isles netminder Varlamov has one ‘goal’ in mind
Veteran eager to fit in and help New York return to Cup glory
Semyon Varlamov didn’t mince words when asked why he chose the Brooklyn/Long Island-based Islanders in free agency this summer.
“The goal is the same; to win the Stanley Cup one day,” the veteran goaltender noted.
“I’m lucky to have the opportunity to play for this team. I think this organization is definitely going in the right direction. That was part of my decision.”
Coming off a less-than-spectacular season in Colorado that saw him ride the bench behind Philipp Grubauer durng the playoffs, Varlamov was certainly the Islanders’ Plan B after team president and general manager Lou Lamoriello was unable to sign Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner.
Lehner, who went from NHL flameout to Masterson Trophy winner as the league’s comeback player of the year, inked a one-year pact with Chicago after revitalizing his career with the Isles last season.
That forced Lamoriello to go shopping for another goalie to pair with Thomas Greiss, who teamed with Lehner to win the Jennings Trophy in 2018-19 as the tandem yielded the least goals in the league just one year after New York surrendered the most tallies in the NHL.
Enter Varlamov, who has spent the previous 11 seasons between Washington and Colorado.
The 31-year-old Russian, who owns a career 2.68 goals-against average and .916 save percentage, will likely split time between the pipes with Greiss and is also seen as a potential mentor to upcoming Isles goaltending prospect and fellow countryman Ilya Sorokin.
“You have a young man with one year left (in Russia’s KHL) and potentially coming over the next year with a language barrier and now having someone in the same position to possibly look up to,” Lamoriello said.
“They’ve played on a couple of teams together, so in my opinion, [it’s] absolutely [a factor],”
Varlamov, however, hopes to be more than just a sidekick to Greiss and a translator/big brother to Sorokin.
The former first-round pick, circa 2006 by Washington, spent most of the offseason on his ranch in Texas before beginning his training regimen in Aspen, Colorado.
But now he is skating alongside a handful of his new teammates, including Greiss, at the Isles’ practice facility on Long Island, trying to familiarize himself with his new environment ahead of the team’s upcoming training camp.
“Thomas has been in the league for a long time and he’s a great goalie, great person and is working really hard in practice,” Varlamov said of Greiss, who has been with the Isles since the first day they moved into the Barclays Center back in 2015.
“I can tell he’s a hard-working guy. It’s going to be fun hockey season for us, we have a lot of things to do together. My goal is to help this team win the Stanley Cup.”
Another reason for Varlamov’s excitement for the upcoming campaign is the goaltending coaching duo of Mitch Korn and Piero Greco, who helped turn Lehner around a season ago and are working hard to get their newest goalie prepared for what promises to be another strong season here.
“I’m very excited to start working with these two guys. They are very experienced goalie coaches,” Varlamov gushed.
“I’m 31, I’m still open to learn something because the league is changing, the game is changing, so goalies need to come up with some new ideas. I know we can trust these two guys and they are going to help us improve our game.”
New teammates Matt Martin and Thomas Hickey have also been involved in these early workouts with Varlamov and Greiss, and Hickey believes the early bonding will serve the Isles well as they try to improve on a 103-point season that saw them reach the Eastern Conference semifinals last year.
“It’s good to have both goalies here actually,” Hickey said. “I think Greisser has a good rapport with everyone and especially other goalies. I think that’s unique. They seem to get along really well.
“[Varlamov] is a big guy. It’s tough to tell in practice, but he’s obviously got that resume that speaks for itself. [Goalies] are all hard to score on for me, but he’s a good goaltender. I think he’ll bring a lot of good stuff for us this year. He seems like he’s more dynamic than your average goaltender in the league. That athleticism and his track record will be a great addition for us.”
And Brooklyn/Long Island should be a great fit for Varlamov, who revealed that he wasn’t the only free agent hoping to get a call from Lamoriello this past summer.
“Everybody has seen the good things happening with the New York Islanders the last two years,” he said.
“They have a great coaching staff, great management and a great team. A lot of hockey players want to come here and take the opportunity playing for this team. I was one of them.”
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